Is Donald Trump an authentic leader?

Psychologist Fiona Beddoes-Jones argues that there's more to authenticity than just doing or saying whatever you feel like.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 01 Jul 2019

We’re told to bring our whole selves to work, but is that always a good thing? Some personalities are problematic – a tendency for violence, for example, wouldn’t be welcome in the workplace – and doubly so in leadership positions.

In a recent LinkedIn post, psychologist and consultant Fiona Beddoes-Jones asked whether ‘being yourself’ is really the only qualification for authentic leadership, with reference to a couple of well-known politicians who are regularly hailed as authentic:

"There's a difference between authentic leadership (little a, little l), and Authentic Leadership (capital A, capital L).

"Whilst it's true to say that both Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are authentic in that they are being true to themselves and their beliefs and values, so too were Adolph Hitler, Bin Laden and Pol Pot. History is littered with such men. All leaders, but not Authentic Leaders.

"My research (with real leaders, not students), identified that there are three key factors to Authentic Leadership. Authentic Leaders are self-aware, self-regulating and ethical."

Beddoes-Jones' point is clearly not that Trump or Johnson resemble the likes of Hitler, but rather that authenticity is best understood as a desirable leadership quality, which means that simply being true to what you believe doesn't cut it. 

As she explains in a more detailed exposition elsewhere, authenticity connects your personality with your role as a leader. It means not restraining yourself at work for fear you won’t be accepted for who you are, rather than giving yourself carte blanche to do or say whatever you feel like, regardless of the consequences.

Authenticity is therefore perceived as well as expressed, which is where the idea of role modelling serves as a valuable acid test. You don't have to be liked, but if no one who knows you considers you a role model, can you really think you’re an authentic leader?

Sadly, those who lack the quality of authenticity will also lack the self-awareness to ask themselves this question. For everyone else though, it might help find the balance between bringing your whole self to work and bringing out the best of yourself and other people, wherever you go.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr (creative commons)


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